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EPA Chief Steps down amid multiple investigations. TRANSCRIPT: 07/05/2018. The Rachel Maddow Show

Guests: Gabriel Sherman, Eric Lipton, Bob Ferguson

Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: July 5, 2018 Guest: Gabriel Sherman, Eric Lipton, Bob Ferguson

JOY REID, MSNBC HOST: All right. Thanks to all of you at home for joining us this hour. Rachel has the night off.

Happy day after the Fourth of July. I hope you got some R&R yesterday, because tonight, there is a lot to get to, starting with the bombshell resignation of scandal-plagued EPA chief Scott Pruitt.

For months, Pruitt was defiant, refusing to resign despite more than a dozen federal investigations, over everything from biometric lock, to tactical pants. Through it all, Pruitt stayed course, seemingly backed by the president. He even showed up at the White House Fourth of July picnic yesterday.

So, why the turnabout today? A moment, we`ll talk with a reporter who has been covering Pruitt and his scandals from the very beginning.

That White House Fourth of July picnic is also the backdrop for a big development in another story we`re following here tonight, the president`s pick for the Supreme Court. CNBC is reporting that, quote, during the July 4th picnic at the White House, Donald Trump suggested to friends and some external advisers that he had already made up his mind. That he has settled on D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Brett Kavanaugh, who, it is worth nothing, has gone on the record saying that, quote, a serious constitutional question exists regarding whether a president can be criminally indicted and tried while in office. This is Donald Trump that we`re talking about, so, clearly, anything could happen between now and Monday night at 9:00 p.m. Eastern, when he is expected to make his official announcement in primetime.

We`re following news on Michael Cohen, who until recently was the president`s long-time personal attorney. Just to drive the point home that he is not doing that job anymore, Cohen used his July 4th holiday to scrub the words personal attorney to President Donald J. Trump from his Twitter and LinkedIn profiles. More fodder for anyone taking bets on if and when Michael Cohen might flip and start cooperating with federal prosecutors.

Michael Cohen also apparently used the holiday break to hire yet another new lawyer and the pick could be a clue about his intentions toward the investigation, since his news lawyer is Lanny Davis, the legendary Washington lawyer who spent decades defending Bill and Hillary Clinton. Nothing like hiring the lawyer of your former boss`s uber nemesis.

Now, is this all just an elaborate preamble to the great Cohen flip? We have some reporting on that coming up.

But we start tonight with Richard Nixon, who needed two tries before he got elected president. The first time, he ran was in 1960 and it`s generally held that Nixon lost that race in large part because of television. That Nixon compared unfavorably to viewers at home as he shared the stage with the charismatic and certainly more telegenic and decidedly less sweaty John F. Kennedy. Many years later, Nixon would say that the experience did not make him better about television, but rather it taught him a valuable lesson about the importance of it.

In fact, looking back, he wished he`d done a lot more televised press conferences during his time in the White House.


RICHARD NIXON, FORMER PRESIDENT: It is very important for a president, or a cabinet officer or a congressman or a senator to be held accountable. To be kept on his toes. And the media today does that. The media is in an adversarial position with regard to public officials, and that is healthy in its way.

Speaking of the media, too, we have to realize that -- and I think this is frankly not a helpful development, and that is that television plays too much of a role today. Now, having said that, however, it means that when we select our candidates, we`ve got to remember that they must learn to use television. If they are unable to communicate on television, a president, for example, isn`t going to be able to get support for his programs. And of course during the so-called Watergate period, it was very difficult to have a press conference.

But I -- had I survived, I would have had far more press conferences, I would have had them on television whenever possible, because I rather have my views go directly to the people, where they can hear me saying it, rather than having it filtered through anchorman or, frankly, writing press, who give their views as to what I said.


REID: By that time, Nixon was in his late 70s and still longing to have his views go directly to the people. But his desire to avoid the filter of anchormen had been drafted into an actual real-life plan during his time in the White House. In 2011, before it was sued out of existence, thanks to a campaign bankrolled by top Trump ally Peter Thiel, the Website "Gawker" unearthed what it described as Roger Ailes` secret Nixon-era blueprint for Fox News. Roger Ailes was, of course, the longtime head of Fox News until his death last year.

Long before launching that cable network, Ailes worked in the Nixon White House as a media adviser to the president. And buried deep within the Nixon presidential library, "Gawker" uncovered a document that envisions a way for Republicans, not just to better navigate TV, but to make TV themselves. The 15-page memo is unsigned and undated. It was called "a plan for putting the GOP on TV news." And this is how it started.

Quote: Today, television news is watched more often than people read newspapers, than people listen to the radio, than people read or gather any form of information or communication. The reason? People are lazy. With television, you just sit, watch, listen. The thinking is done for you.

It went on to say, this is a plan that places news of importance to localities, senators and representatives are newsmakers of importance to their localities on local television news programs, while it is still news. It avoids the censorship, the priorities and the prejudices of network news selectors and disseminators. The idea was to provide pro administration videotape, hard news actualities to the major cities of the United States.

And despite a detailed plan of copious notes in Roger Ailes handwriting, the plan would never come to fruition. But Roger Ailes would go on from the Nixon White House to create a true media empire, now fully formed in the age of Trump.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Finish it the hell up. That`s right. Bob Mueller, Weissmann, Jeannie Rhee -- are you guys watching, what you`ve done to the country? What you`re doing to the country?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mueller has come up with goose eggs.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would fire the SOB in three seconds.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: James Comey is a dirty cop.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There`s a name for this, it`s called McCarthyism, and it`s scarier than anything Trump has ever done with the Russians.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let`s look at the Mueller crime family.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is time to end the Mueller/Comey/Rosenstein cabal for once and for all.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The attorney general is incompetent, the FBI is corrupt and Robert Mueller and Rod Rosenstein are unethical and abusive of the legal process. All of them deserve to be fired.


REID: The relationship between Fox News and this White House goes well beyond friendly coverage. Primetime personality Sean Hannity has been dubbed Trump`s shadow chief of staff. It`s the only television network the president routinely grants interviews to.

And the network that Ailes built has become a kind of pipeline for White House hours. Most totally, John Bolton, who appeared on Fox moments after being unveiled as Trump`s third national security adviser.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Here now, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, former Fox News contributor. Good to have you here this evening, sir. Your reaction to your new job?

JOHN BOLTON, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Well, I think I still am a Fox News contributor.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, you`re not, apparently.


REID: This administration and Fox News is something of a revolving door, with people cycling in and out of both. And while we`ve seen Fox News personalities go from cable green room to the podium, today president is blurring the line even more, essentially merging the two operations with the official announcement he has fired former Fox News executive Bill Shine to run communications at the White House as his deputy chief of staff for communications.

The former Fox executive resigned from the network last year, amid acquisitions that he enabled a culture of sexual harassment at the network. The number of women at the network alleged, some of them in court documents, that he was aware of deeply inappropriate behavior against them and deflected, ignored or sought to suppress their concerns rather than take actions to address them constructively. Bill Shine denied those allegations.

Now Shine, a close ally and personal friend of Sean Hannity, will be getting a new job inside the White House, backed by his years of experience at Fox News. Shine will become Trump`s fourth White House communications director. A post first created by one Richard Milhous Nixon.

And joining us now is Gabriel Sherman, a special correspondent with "Vanity Fair" and author of "The Loudest Voice in the Room: How the Brilliant, Bombastic Roger Ailes Built Fox News and Divided a Country".

Gabe, good to see you.


REID: OK. So, let`s talk about, first, the importance or significance, in your view, of Bill Shine --


REID: -- going from Fox News to the White House.

SHERMAN: Well, it raises so many fascinating things. Really shows the symbiosis that exists between this White House and Fox News. And the fact that you basically, as you pointed out, it is a pipeline, a recruitment organization for this White House. You know, I think one thing people need to know about Bill Shine is that he was shaped and molded by Roger Ailes, really, from the beginning. He started spent his career being shaped and tutored by Roger Ailes.

So, he is going to bring all of that thinking about how to set a narrative and push right wing talking points from the morning through the day, to the night time, to the White House.

REID: And so, Fox News already has a sort of perfect symbiosis in terms of its messaging with, you know, the Trump administration. What difference will it make to have a former executive there inside the building, inside the West Wing?

SHERMAN: Well, I think what Trump is trying to do, from my reporting, it indicates that he`s trying to bring some discipline, which is ironic, because the most undisciplined person in this White House is the president himself.

REID: Right.

SHERMAN: But he`s trying to instill some discipline in his communication shop, to sort of stick to set talking points and push them out to the press throughout the day. There hasn`t been a cohesive message, partly because the president himself will just tweet things that goes against exactly what the White House is trying to do.

But I think what is so sort of striking about this hire is that it shows, again, the disregard that Trump has for any kind of norms and standards. Bill Shine was credibility accused of knowing about Roger Ailes flagrant sexual harassment and he was involved in some of the darkest, most troubling aspect of Ailes` tenure, including Ailes basically entrapment of a former Fox executive named Laurie Luhn who Ailes had a many year abusive and sexual relationship with.

And Bill Shine was in charge of basically keeping her under wraps, preventing her from going public. He was told to read her e-mails, cover up her communications. He, in fact, also found a psychiatrist to send her to when she had a nervous breakdown because Roger Ailes was worried about her going public with her allegations.

So, this is striking, that a executive helped cover up some of Ailes` most dark and devious behavior is now one of the highest ranking members of the federal government.

REID: Yes, and not only that, but the president of the United States himself has multiple accusers accusing him of sexual harassment, embroiled in one lawsuit, or two, you know? So, is there any angst or anxiety about bringing somebody who is so associated with issues of sexual harassment at Fox into a White House where the president has similar issues?

SHERMAN: Yes, the people close to the White House I talked to are worried this is going to embolden and encourage the president`s worst instincts. You know, at Fox News, Bill Shine`s role was to basically be Roger Ailes` enabler.

He was not someone who pushed back. He was the quintessential yes man. And that is what we`ve seen Donald Trump likes. He surrounds himself with people who will basically just indulge his instincts. That`s what Shine -- people are worried that he`s not going to be served any kind of check on this president. He`s going to be an accelerant and pushing his most divisive messages out there.

REID: And I wonder, you know, Donald Trump already has a base that is rock solid.

SHERMAN: Of course.

REID: They`re not living him no matter what. He`s already communicating to them through Fox News every day.


REID: What more do they think they can get out of this? They`re not trying to expand his electorate.


REID: Obviously, this has to do with the reelect. What is the point?

SHERMAN: Well, the point here is that they`re basically -- they`ve written off, basically, the middle and the rest of the country. They are going to try to mobilize their most hard core supporters, and people who generally had not tended to vote in presidential and midterm elections. You know, Bill Shine was Sean Hannity`s producer.

Sean Hannity, as I`ve reported, wanted Bill Shine to be the chief of staff of this White House. This is basically the Sean Hannity presidency. And you`re going to try to get the very angry, far right anti-immigrant nationalist voters out there and Donald Trump is making the political calculus that there are enough of those people to basically overcome the vast majority of Americans and the demographics are working against them. To me, it`s a numbers game and we`ll see if he bets right.

REID: Yes, indeed. Well, it will be interesting to watch. Gabriel Sherman, thank you very much.

SHERMAN: Thank you.

REID: "Vanity Fair" special correspondent, Gabe Sherman that is. Thanks for your time.

SHERMAN: Thank you.

REID: All right. Joining us now is Michael Beschloss, NBC News presidential historian.

All right. Michael Beschloss, let`s talk about this in terms of Nixon`s dream and the reality that`s now been created by Bill Shine entering the White House. What do you make of it?

MICHAEL BESCHLOSS, NBC NEWS PERESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Well, if Nixon came back, he would say, I wish that I had been able to have something like Fox News. And when Roger Ailes suggested the idea of -- it wasn`t so much a network at that point, because there wasn`t really cable, so, it would have been difficult. Ailes` idea was that there would be -- it was called at one point "GOP TV" or "White House TV," where there would be videotapes, you know, interviews with Nixon`s staff, interviews with the president and this stuff would be flown by airplane. You know, this is the early 1970s, to local stations to take the White House message.

And if you can think of Nixon at the time of Watergate, had he had a Fox News, he might have -- he might not have survived scandal, but he probably would have been able to hang on a little bit longer. You can imagine Nixon having a friendly network like Fox saying, Archibald Cox is a bad man, the special prosecutor. He`s surrounded by people who love John Kennedy and therefore hate Nixon.

And, you know, obstruction of justice is not that bad. You can just imagine it. But because Nixon did not have that, and he had what he thought to be three hostile networks, he did not survive.

REID: And it`s interesting, because one would imagine that Roger Stone, another veteran of the Nixon administration, it was his thought that had they had that messaging and communications operations, they could have survived it. And it would have been more powerful, right? Because with just three networks to compete with, it actually might have been even more powerful than Fox News is in the more stratified world we have now.

BESCHLOSS: Might have very much been more powerful and more helpful to Nixon. And Nixon`s frustration, you see it in his memoirs, I talked to him a couple of years before he died, he said it to me, he was frustrated because he felt that there was no TV network that was willing to say the kind of things that he wanted them to say.

REID: Yes. And so, now you have this sort of merger of Fox News and state, right? With Bill Shine going into the White House. Has there ever been any equivalent of that kind of a relationship between a White House and any form of media?

BESCHLOSS: Not really. You know, Andrew Jackson, for instance, would have a very friendly newspaper that would say a lot of the things that he wanted to say, but one newspaper did not have the kind of power that a TV network like Fox News does now. So, this is something that we have not seen before.

REID: Yes, and I wonder if it`s amplified more because you have Sinclair broadcast network that is taking that strategy out to the local news. In a way, has Nixon`s dream been super fulfilled because fox is just one media network that is carrying that unified message?

BESCHLOSS: Oh, I think absolutely. This is exactly what Nixon dreamt of. And we could see a situation in which a president is able to get a lot more things done and is able to survive challenges and criticism and opposition by, you know, the opposition party, in a way that Nixon was never able to do. So, in a way, Richard Nixon has won.

REID: Yes. And lastly, I have to ask you about this piece of trivia. Richard Nixon created the office of communications director. It will be a lot of fun for you to tell the audience who that was.

BESCHLOSS: It did. It was a guy named Herb Klein, who had been Nixon`s press secretary in 1960 when he ran for president and lost. And Nixon thought that Klein was not tough enough and so he actually kicked him upstairs by creating this term, you know, this title, director of communications, and he didn`t do too much.

The irony is that that job has become a lot more important. Now, Bill Shine has a slightly different title, but I think what we`re going to see with Bill Shine is, not only optics and this is how you stage a rally for President Trump, but these -- this is the kind of language that works on Fox News. These are the kinds of things you should say that will mobilize your audience.

Those are tools that Nixon never had.

REID: Yes, and I wonder how he`ll deal with every other part of the media --

BESCHLOSS: I can only imagine and you can, too.

REID: Yes, indeed. Michael Beschloss, NBC News presidential historian -- always a treat to talk to you.

BESCHLOSS: Same here. Thank you, Joy.

REID: Thank you. And parting is such sweet sorry. Scott Pruitt, the EPA chief, who up until now has been like Teflon when it came to scandals, resigned today. But why not?

We`re about to talk to someone who can shed some light on that. Stay with us.


REID: There was a time in American life when Lanny Davis was virtually inescapable. And oh what a time it was. As Bill Clinton`s presidency was being consumed by the Monica Lewinsky scandal and Clinton`s impeachment in the late 1990s, Lanny Davis was Clinton`s principle TV defender. On any and every talk show on any given night, Lanny Davis was there, attacking independent counsel Ken Starr.

But since then, Lanny Davis` client list has really expanded. We were just speaking with -- we are going to speak a little later with Eric Lipton of "The New York Times," and here is what he wrote in 2010 about Lanny Davis in an article headlined: Lobbyist`s client list puts him on the defensive.

Quote: Mr. Davis has built a client list that includes coup supporters in Honduras, a dictator in Equatorial Guinea, for-profit colleges accused of exploiting students and a company that dominates the manufacturer additives for infant formula. Also, he agreed to respect the Ivory Coast strongman whose claims to that country`s presidency have been condemned by the international community and may set off a civil war.

He was also Harvey Weinstein`s lawyer for awhile, until that got too awkward. He currently represents a Putin-linked Ukrainian oligarch suspected of ties to the Russian mob. The Justice Department is trying to extradite that oligarch to the United States to face charges. Lanny Davis is working to stop that from happening.

A few weeks ago, Davis showed up in Prague for a public debate with Steve Bannon. The debate was titled, quote, what the heck is going on in America? Well, today in America, Lanny Davis apparently got himself a new client, Donald Trump`s long-time personal attorney Michael Cohen.

Davis told "The New York Times" about his new gig this afternoon. And today, happened to be the deadline for parties in the Cohen case to finish up their review of the materials federal agents seized from Cohen`s home, office and hotel room in April. Federal prosecutors have gotten 1.3 million documents and records from that raid, and now, they`ll get the last of them.

What happens once prosecutors have all of Cohen`s seized materials is anybody`s guess. Cohen has not yet been charged with anything, but if he is going to start cooperating with prosecutors against Donald Trump, maybe a lawyer who has defended a president under impeachment, as well as several authoritarian dictators is just the guy he needs.

And Cohen isn`t the only one adding lawyers today. "Bloomberg News" is reporting that the number of lawyers and FBI agents working on special counsel Robert Mueller`s investigation is also growing. Quote: Special counsel Robert Mueller is tapping additional Justice Department resources for help with new legal battles as his year-old investigation of Russian interference with the 2016 election continues to expand. As Mueller pursues his probe, he`s making more use of career prosecutors from the offices of U.S. attorneys and from Justice Department headquarters, as well as FBI agents, a sign that he may be laying the groundwork to hand off parts of his investigation eventually.

According to several and current former U.S. officials, quote, Mueller and his team of 17 federal prosecutors are coping with a higher than expected volume of court challenges that has added complexity in recent months. But there`s no political appetite at this time to increase the size of his staff.

In other words, spreading his investigation to more folks in the Justice Department may not be Mueller giving up parts of his case. It may be a way around the political problem of getting more money for the special counsel`s office at a time when the president`s political party controls the purse strings.

And joining us now is Paul Butler, a former federal prosecutor and a professor at Georgetown School of Law.

Thanks for joining us, Paul. Always good to see you.


REID: So, what would be the significance, in your view, just as a legal expert, of bringing on a high profile lawyer like Lanny Davis for -- if you`re Michael Cohen?

BUTLER: So, with Lanny Davis, and another lawyer, a very effective Guy Petrillo, Michael Cohen now has better defense attorneys than President Trump. In some ways, Lanny Davis is like a more ethical and skilled version of Rudy Giuliani. He, as you indicated, can go into full attack dog mode for his client, but he`s better known as a deal-maker. Those are his skills more than being in the courtroom.

And so, if, as reported, Michael Cohen is looking to make a deal with Mueller, then, Lanny Davis is the perfect guy to do that.

REID: And as his former law professor, do you suspect that the Lanny Davis hire helps Michael Cohen against Michael Avenatti, who has been pretty aggressive against Cohen in public media?

BUTLER: Yes, again, they both have very good media skills. But, you know, at the end of the day, what`s going to impress Mueller about Michael Cohen is what he`s go got, who he`s got the goods on and if he has it with President Trump. And it`s likely that he does.

Remember, Michael Cohen essentially ran Trump`s businesses along with Ivanka and Don Jr. So, almost certainly, some -- Cohen will have evidence about some improprieties with the Trump Organization. What Mueller wants to do about those is anybody`s guess.

REID: Now, does it make it, in your view, more likely, because there has been this question of why Michael Cohen has resisted, you know, officially sort of turning on Trump and flipping and helping out the Mueller investigation. Does bringing on a high profile lawyer like Lanny Davis, given his history, make it seem to you more likely that he will now do that?

BUTLER: You know, we`re hearing, I think, different interpretations of Michael Cohen, certainly very public profile, you know, he`s indicated that now his loyalty isn`t to Trump, but rather in opposition to the United States and to his family. So, that could be way to saying to Mueller, you slide up in my DMs, you know, you got a pardon to bless me with -- I`m sorry, saying that to Trump, do you have a pardon to bless me with.

Or on the other hand, he could be signaling to Mueller, again, that he`s really to cooperate. He hasn`t even made a proffer yet, which means that Cohen hasn`t sat down with prosecutors and told us what -- told them what he has to offer. But again, he potentially has really important information on obstruction and also on collusion, because among Cohen`s responsibilities for Trump was to, you know, make deals with these Russian oligarchs.

There`s lots of kind of incriminating information about where Cohen was at certain times. He made a trip, reportedly, to Prague to talk to Russian operatives in 2016, and then he lied about it, and Mueller apparently`s got the goods on that.

So, again, there`s a potential lot of information that`s incriminating and damaging to the president, but Mueller, again, he knows a lot that we don`t know, but he hasn`t heard it directly from Cohen`s mouth.

REID: Yes, there`s been a lot of denials by Michael Cohen about some of that information, but we haven`t even gotten to the Stormy Daniels of it, because that`s out there, too.

BUTLER: Yes, he`s got all that kind of exposure, too. And as you mentioned, he -- that`s a separate investigation. So, that`s the Southern District of New York, so, no matter what happens to the Mueller investigation, a lot of these other federal investigations involving people who are connected to this Russian stuff, they`re going to go on and on.

REID: Wow. Paul Butler, former federal prosecutor and law professor at Georgetown School of Law -- thank you very much. Really appreciate your time tonight.

BUTLER: Always a pleasure.

REID: Thank you very much.

OK, what costs $32 a bottle, smells great and can only be found at Ritz- Carlton Hotels? Answer? A luxury item at the heart of just one of Scott Pruitt`s many, many, many scandals. But that scandal didn`t get Pruitt to resign, nor did any of the others.

So, what made Pruitt finally hang it up today? That is next.


REID: OK, it has sweet notes of ylang-ylang and jasmine and uplifting bergamot. It runs $32 a bottle. It is sold exclusively at Ritz-Carlton Hotels and it led to this amazing headline in "The Washington Post." Pruitt enlisted security detail in picking up dry cleaning and moisturizing lotion.

Quote, EPA administrator Scott Pruitt directed agents to drive him to multiple locations in search of a particular lotion sold at Ritz-Carlton Hotels. In the short time that Scott Pruitt has been in charge of Environmental Protection Agency, he has reportedly used your tax dollars to not just track down fancy lotion, but also to buy $1,500 worth of fountain pens, a $43,000 fake security booth, a biometric lock for his office door, around the clock security detail, first class plane tickets, a bulletproof SUV. There was the used mattress he tried to buy from the president`s hotel. And the condo he rented from a lobbyist. You remember, the one where his security broke down the door to rescue him when he was actually asleep.

There were the Rose Bowl tickets from the energy company. And the basketball seats from a coal executive, there were the fancy snacks and the secret calendar, and the private jet, and the police sirens. At a certain point, this starts to feel a lot like Scott Pruitt corruption scandal mad libs, right? Scott Pruitt spends blank on useless blank after talking with blank lobbyist. It all sort of runs together at certain point.

But then, there was that thing with the chicken.


SCOTT PRUITT, FORMER EPA ADMINISTRATOR: My wife is an entrepreneur herself. I love, she loves, we love -- Chick-fil-A is a franchise of faith and it`s one of the best in the country, and so, that`s something we were very excited about. So -- and we need more of them in Tulsa, we need more of them across the country. So, anyway, it`s an exciting time.


REID: It`s an exciting time.

The reason Scott Pruitt was asked about Chick-fil-A is not because the reporter wanted his thoughts on tasty peanut oil fried fast food, "The Washington Post" has just reported that Pruitt asked his aide at the EPA to contact the fast food chain, Chick-fil-A, and see if they would let his wife run one of their fried chicken franchises. When that didn`t pan out, he asked his staff to contact Republican donors to see if they would hire his wife instead, which sounds illegal. A cabinet official cannot ask his aide whose salaries paid for by you the taxpayer to help him get his wife a job so his family can make extra cash.

Now, we know that Scott Pruitt is currently the subject of more than a dozen investigations into his free-spreading ways and his behavior during his time running the EPA. He has a lawyer, as do some of his former staffers, many of whom are currently meeting with congressional investigators to tell what they know. And yet day after day, headline after headline, Scott Pruitt has returned to his office at the EPA with the biometric locks and the fake security booth, with the blessing of the White House, until today.

Scott Pruitt has resigned from the Trump White House. Starting Monday, Pruitt will not have a job in the federal government. He sent the president his resignation letter today, which was accepted by a tweet.

And then on a lot of levels, it`s kind of make sense. It`s not really a surprise that Scott Pruitt had to step down. What`s less clear is why it had to happen now? What changed?

And joining us now is Eric Lipton, investigative reporter for "The New York Times" and he`s been a scoop machine covering the Scott Pruitt saga.

Eric, it`s great to you have here.


REID: Let`s answer the million dollar question, which is, with all that Scott Pruitt has gone through, that you`ve been reporting on up to this point, what changed such that he steps down now?

LIPTON: I think two things really shifted. One was that early -- the early cycle of stories that we all did, "The Washington Post", "The New York Times" and others were of stories about wasteful spending, you know, first class travel, security spending that seemed excessive. But in the recent weeks, we really shifted to things that were quite more serious, and potentially serious ethic violations and potentially even criminal violations.

And so, for example, it turns out that the $50 a night condo that he was living in, there was a lobbyist who is the spouse of the owner of the condo, who was repeatedly lobbying Pruitt while he was living in the condo, even though we`ve been told that he had not been lobbied by this lobbyist while he was living there. That is a clear-cut ethics violation, to be -- have a financial relationship with someone that is targeting you and potentially gotten a discounted rent.

Then, we have him intervening with staff members to get his wife a job. That also is a clear potential ethics violation that was going to have consequences once these investigations came to an end. Most recently, with the story that we just published today and we`ve been sort of picking away at in recent weeks, it turns out that his -- apparently his schedule was being, you know, changed to modify events that they did not want in the public`s view.

And to make a change in a federal record is a potential, you know, civil and potentially a criminal violation, in you`re modifying federal records in order to cover up something. Now, we haven`t proved that that occurred, but that`s -- there was an aide that was asked to make changes, she said she thought these -- making these changes were illegal, after she raised these problems, she was fired. So, what has happened recently, we`ve gone from a story where, you know, there`s excessive spending and there`s things that seem crazy, to a story where these are potential serious ethics and criminal violations.

Now, finally, the other thing that`s happening, we`re getting closer to the midterms, and Pruitt has become, you know, a real liability for the Republican Party and for the president. I think at a certain point, you know, the question becomes, is it worth carrying this liability, when he could be a potential consequence to us in the midterms.

REID: Well, and to that point, and just give us the benefit of your reporting on this, because there has been some defense of Scott Pruitt out there in the conservative sort of media world, it hasn`t been that clear. There have been a few, Laura Ingraham, have been critical of him. Was the White House beginning to hear that this was starting to actually resonate with voters or was it more on Capitol Hill? Where were they getting the sense that he was losing -- that he was hurting them electorally potentially?

LIPTON: Well, in recent weeks, you`ve seen, you know, certain Republicans in Congress, particularly from rural states, corn-growing states, where there was a dispute over ethanol and a requirement for, you know, ethanol being blended into gasoline, and they were not happy with some of the decisions that Pruitt was making, and some of those Republican senators were starting to become quite vocal about their doubts about Pruitt and his ethics. And so, if you start to lose the Farm Belt and the Republicans from the Farm Belt, then, you know, you are perhaps going to have a real problem with basically the party turning away from Pruitt.

And then you had some of the conservative media that was starting to question and suggested that it was time for Pruitt to go. So, this was, you know, Trump`s real constituency he was starting to lose. And I think it became clear that Pruitt was going to become a real target among Democrats in the midterms, and that Pruitt was going to be a liability to the party and to the presidency.

REID: All right. Eric Lipton from "The New York Times," thank you very much. Really appreciate your time tonight.

LIPTON: Thank you.

REID: Thank you. All right, set your watches. It is t-minus 123 days until the midterms. We have new polling tonight that shows that there`s one bloc of voters who are so fired up and formidable, they basically hold the midterm elections in the palm of their hands. And that`s next.


REID: OK, here`s something that caught our attention. Check this out. In July of 2010, the solid middle of the road Quinnipiac poll asked voters about the upcoming congressional elections. The first since Barack Obama was elected president. They asked voters whether, just generically speaking, respondents preferred Republicans or Democrats for Congress.

This is the generic congressional ballot poll. It`s broken down by gender. Each year, I can tell you, that men have tended to prefer Republicans. In July of 2010, men preferred Republicans by a margin of 13 percent. Women voters preferred Democrats by 2 percent. The distance between the two, the gender gap, was 15 points.

Next up, the midterm congressional elections of 2014. Men, again preferred Republicans, this time by six points. Women, again, preferred Democrats by nine points. And even with some shifting around, you get the same gender gap, again, 15 points.

OK, now look at this. Brand new polling, still from Quinnipiac. Men say they lean toward Republican candidates for Congress by eight points. Down, but fairly par for the course. But women -- women say they lean toward Democrats by 25 points, 25. That is a statistically huge number, which gives us a gender gap of 33 points.

Even among the wild things we`ve seen in U.S. politics, that is remarkable. The divide between women and men over who should represent us in Congress. And this result in Quinnipiac is not the only poll that we`ve seen pointing to a yawning divide.

We`ve seen the Pew poll put the gender gap at 22. CNN has said it was 34 percent. And a new poll from NBC says it`s 28 points.

To be clear, what we`re seeing here four months out from the election is not just men typically going red and women typically going blue. This is men leaning towards Republicans a little bit, and women going for Democrats by a mile. And that`s without even breaking the poll out by gender and race.

How this plays out is anyone`s guess, but the election is remarkable already. We`ll be right back.


REID: Today, we got a new, if ballparky figure for the number of certain separated from their migrant parents by the Trump administration. And it`s larger than the number we got before, by hundreds. Health and Human Service Secretary Alex Azar says that new number is nearly 3,000.

Now, Mr. Azar did not provide an exact figure today. But just last Tuesday, he told the Senate Finance Committee that the number was 2,047 kids precisely. Of the nearly 3,000 children he now says are being held, Secretary Azar says about 100 of them are younger than 5 years old.

Those are the kids that a federal judge in California ordered the government to bring back to their parents within 14 days of the order`s release. And the order was filed last Tuesday. The secretary confirmed that his department intends to comply with that deadline. He insisted they have a plan in place to get this job done.

That plan includes DNA testing to speed up the reunification process and adding 230 workers to oversee the testing and assist parents in filling out something called a family reunification packet. Tuesday is just the first of two court mandated deadlines. After those kindergartners and toddlers and babies are brought back to their families that they were taken from, HHS will have 2,900 kids left to go. The deadline for bringing all the kids back is the 26th of this month.

Whether Mr. Azar`s agency actually meets these deadlines or not, the fact the U.S. government has separated about 3,000 children from their parents will be remembered as a searing moment in American history. And that chilling history will include the testimony documented in lawsuits filed against the government for its zero tolerance policy. This will be 900 pages of testimony in a suit brought by 17 states.

These many, many declarations give us clear insight into what is like to have your child forcibly removed from you and handed over to HHS.

One woman says that just after her son was taken from her, an immigration officer, quote, told me they were not going to give me asylum and I would not see Israel de la Luz until he is 18 years old because they were going to put him up with an American family for adoption. That scared me a lot.

Another mother was given ten minutes to say good-bye to her children. The officers told her the children could not come with her to detention. Quote, the older child, when he heard that, started to cry and said to me, crying, mommy, I don`t want to go. I don`t want them to separate us.

The other child, when we saw the other crying, began to cry as well. I felt so badly, just hugged them and kissed them and told them, go, son. God willing, we will be together soon. Take care of your little brother. I said I love you two very much.

This collection of testimony also tells us what it`s sometimes like when you get your child back from HHS. A woman who left El Salvador in October of 2017 to seek asylum in the United States told the state of Washington about being reunited with her son who was taken from her partner after they crossed the border.

She talks about her son`s condition after she brought him home. Quote, when I took off his clothes, he was full of dirt and lice. It seemed like they had not bathed him the 85 days he was away from us. Her son is not even two years old.

She recounted later that night when she was trying to put him to bed, quote, he cried the moment we got to the bed and refused to sleep. He finally fell asleep from exhaustion, but he only slept on my chest. When I tried to put him on the bed, he would cry again.

Within the first few days back at home, she found magazines in her mailbox and took them out. Quote, I rolled them up and put them under my arm. When M, her son, saw what I was doing, he immediately started crying and did not stop until I put the magazines away. His reaction makes me think he was abused in the shelter.

And joining us now is Bob Ferguson, the attorney general of Washington state, which is the lead plaintiff for the 17 states suing over the separation of families.

Mr. Attorney General, thank you for joining us.

BOB FERGUSON, ATTORNEY GENERAL OF WASHINGTON STATE: Thank you for having me, Joy. I really appreciate it.

REID: Thank you.

Those pieces of testimony are hard to read. They are heart-breaking what you are learning from these families. In the course of this lawsuit, do you get a sense the government actually does have a plan to give these children, particularly the very young children, really all these kids, back to their moms and dads?

FERGUSON: There is no plan, Joy. There is only one word, and that`s chaos. And as painful as it is to hear the words when you read them on a piece of paper as you have just done, I came today from meeting with five women, five additional women to get additional declarations.

I went down to a detention facility here in Washington state and the stories they relayed to me in person, you know, were heartbreaking in the extreme.

REID: The one about the mom being told she would not see her child again until he was 18 because he was going to be prepped for adoption, have you heard more than one parent saying they were basically threatened to have their children adopted out without their consent?

FERGUSON: Yes. That was a consistent them even today in the meetings that I have with five different women. I believe at least three, if not four of those women said they were told when they were separated from their children, some were not given the chance to say good-bye, but when they were separated from their children, they were specifically told that their children were going to be put up for adoption in the United States and they, the parent, would be deported back to their home country.

So, that theme of never seeing your child again has been a recurring one, throughout this process, including the five conversations I had today with those five women.

REID: And so, are these parents who the government says they will use DNA to reunite them because I think that adoption threat sounds like it would be much more extent with the younger children, five and under, do these parents, A, know what state their children are? Do they know where approximately their children are? They have some identifying number? And then who is going to pay for the DNA testing?

FERGUSON: No idea who is going to pay for the DNA testing. What I can say in the conversations we had today with these five women, there is at least a growing awareness of having some sense of where their child is, as in I think they are in New York, or I believe they are in Texas. They have had perhaps a conversation or two conversations with their child.

Keep in mind, they have been separated from their field for no many, many weeks. And just one example of one story, there was a 5 year old who was separated from her mother. When she finally had a chance to speak to her 5-year-old, she broke down because in telling the story because her five year old child is angry at her because the five year old son believes that his mother took her -- took him into the United States in order to give him away. The child believes that as a result of being separated from his mother.

That`s the kind of, you know, psychological damage that would be hard to undue with any parent with a child of that age.

REID: Oh, my god. Let alone parents worried about abuse, it is horrifying.

FERGUSON: Yes. And keep in mind, this is a parent who fled a very dangerous situation in order to protect her child and now her child believes just the opposite because of the way our government, our federal government, treated them. That is without a shred of decency.

REID: Bob Ferguson, the attorney general of Washington state, thank you so much for your time tonight. Best of luck with that lawsuit. We`ll definitely be following it. Thank you.

FERGUSON: Thank you.

REID: More ahead tonight. Stay with us.


REID: Well, we got shocking and sad news earlier today. Our former MSNBC colleague Ed Schultz died this morning of natural causes. He was 64 years old.

Ed was most recently a host on RT America. But before that, he worked here at this network for six years. I had the honor of filling in for Ed on weekends, and I still work with some of his producers who have been sharing stories about him all day.

Ed traveled all across America for MSNBC, hosting shows from free health care clinics and covering stories from climate change to the battle over labor unions.

Ed loved to fly planes, drive votes, catch big fish and spent time with his kids, and grandkids. Most of all, he loved his wife, Wendy.

Our condolences to Wendy and the entire Schultz family.

That does it for us tonight and we`ll see you again tomorrow.

Now, it is time for "THE LAST WORD". Ari Melber is in for Lawrence tonight.

Good evening, Ari.



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